Parallel Events - are they valued by the racers?

The news after the two parallel races at the 2021 Cortina d'Ampezzo World Championships was very mixed. There was joy for Italy in securing its first medal, a gold no less, a Gold for France with Mathieu Faivre taking the men's event and then Norway upsetting the odds to win the team event. It was the tactics in the team event and maximum time difference for the losing athlete in the first run of the individual that caused the rage of many fans and racers.

Marco Odermatt was just one of many racers, including Mathieu Faivre (the Men's event winner) and one of the pre race favourites, Federica Brignone to express their ire in how the maximum time difference from the first run could be abused for the racer whop lost the first run. With the red course some believed to be up to 0.75 seconds faster than the blue course, the losing racer would only face a deficit of 0.50 for the second run. This is the same as if they had crashed out.

The time difference is brought in to make the second run still interesting for the watching crowd. With racers that crash out in a normal race giving up the right to a second run, many argued that if a racer crashes out, then they should lose the right to a second run. It certainly did look that some racers did ski tactically on the first run if they were going down the blue course, knowing that they would only face a half second disadvantage on the second run. This was within the rules, but within the spirit of competition?

Some fans were so irate about this whole situation and it was announced on the Austrian newspaper, Tiroler Tageszeitung, that FIS race director, Markus Waldner, that he had faced a death threat over the whole issue.

Since the Chamonix parallel event at the end of February 2020, FIS has worked hard to fine tune the event, an event many believe is perfect for television viewing and thus promoting the sport to a new audience. Lech-Zürs in November 2020 looked to have ironed out a number of the issues raised by athletes, most notably the issue of racers racing both courses to overcome the issue of one course being faster than the other.

Racing both events in the middle of the day certainly saw the issue of snow conditions come to the fore and with the blue course on both days degrading quicker, racing the final stages under lights after the sun has gone down could be an idea to be looked at. It would certainly make for higher viewing figures if held later in the day.

The Individual and Team event did not attract many of the top stars. Almost all of the speed racers had moved on. Jeffrey Reed (Canada) was probably the only pure speed racer to take part and he held his own. France's complete withdrawal showed how little this medal meant when compared to the individual worth of the Giant Slalom for women the following day. Surely younger racers that had not qualified for the main race could have been given the experience of competing at the big Championship for their country?

Katharina Liensberger and Marta Bassina, joint winners of the Individual event both took part but with Petra Vlhova and Alexis Pinturault, winners in Lech-Zürs not taking part, nor did Tessa Worley (bronze in Individual), Mikaela Shiffrin (Alpine Combined Gold winner), Marco Schwarz (Men's Alpine Combined winner), is the event in danger of losing its sparkle to the viewers?

How do FIS entice the top stars to take part? Was the timing of the event wrong in Cortina d'Ampezzo. Could this be the event opening race? Certainly the weather delays at the beginning of the Championships did not help as pressure built up to get all the scheduled races completed before the final four championship races and two qualifying races for the men.

Some racers, including the British team, were really proud to race for their nation and the team spirit this builds up. The image of Stean Luitz going over to one of the young German girls, Andrea Filser, in the Bronze medal race after she had taken a point against the Swiss, showed just what a medal meant to a racer of his stature.

FIS need to tinker more with the event. Certainly there is a groundswell of opinion that would see racers that crash out on the first run in the individual, lose the right to a second run. The maximum margin after defeat on the first run should either be extended or done away with altogether. The combined time alone should be used to decide the winner to get around the use of tactical racing.

How though, do you encourage the big stars to compete? Big prize money? World Cup points? How do you incentivise participation? Six athletes take a medal home from each country (the four that race plus the two reserves) and winning a medal is a great achievement. Do you include in the team criteria to have at least one speed racer in the team?

Norway is a team that has had its nightmares with injuries this season. Atle Lie McGrath and Lukas Braathen could well have been in the team had they not been injured but “We’re still a small but strong team and we showed them that we are strong without big stars.” explained Sebastian Foss-Solevaag after the team of youngsters had won 3-1 against Sweden.

There is no magical answer, this is an open ended discussion but a discussion that needs to be had and with all ideas placed on the table if the events are to have a decent life at the major Games and Championships.

The event concept is good, it makes for great television and live viewing but it just needs developing. If it can develop without the major superstars, it will create its own stars who will cherish their medals and the experience of winning them.

All the racers want are fair conditions.

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